The City of New York has agreed to pay $26 million to settle claims brought on behalf of two men who were wrongfully convicted and spent decades in prison for the 1965 killing of Malcolm X.
New York state will provide an extra $10 million. Their lawyer, David Shanies, announced the deals on Sunday.
According to an email sent by Shanies, “Muhammad Aziz, Khalil Islam, and their families suffered as a result of these wrongful convictions for almost 50 years.” I applaud the City’s honesty and the quickness with which the Comptroller’s Office and the Corporation Counsel proceeded to settle the litigation.
According to Shanies, the settlements demonstrate the need of being watchful in order to detect and rectify injustices caused by “police and prosecutorial malpractice.”
Judging that additional evidence of witness intimidation and concealment of exculpatory evidence had undercut the case against the men, a Manhattan court overturned the convictions of Aziz, now 84, and Islam, who died in 2009, last year. Former D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr. expressed regret for what he called “severe, unforgivable abuses of law and the public confidence” on the part of law enforcement.
On Sunday, a spokesperson for the New York City Law Department said that the city “stands by” Vance’s opinion that the men were wrongfully convicted and that the financial agreement “brings some measure of justice to individuals who spent decades in prison and bore the stigma of being falsely accused of murdering an iconic figure.”
The settlement agreements, according to Shanies, will be signed within the next several weeks, and the New York court with jurisdiction over probate procedures will have to approve the deal for Islam’s estate. The amount of $36,000,000 will be split evenly between Aziz and Islam’s inheritance.
Both Aziz and Islam were released from prison in the 1980s despite their claims of innocence over the 1965 murder at the Audubon Ballroom in Upper Manhattan.
To assert their civil rights “by whatever means necessary,” Black people were encouraged to listen to Malcolm X of the Nation of Islam, who rose to prominence as the voice of the Black power movement. His co-written autobiography with Alex Haley is still considered a contemporary American literary masterpiece.
Towards the conclusion of his life, Malcolm X broke with the Black Muslim group and began advocating for racial harmony after visiting Mecca. The move made him unpopular with some members of the Nation of Islam, who regarded him as a betrayal.
On February 21, 1965, as he was about to give a speech, he was shot and killed. He was 39.
In March of 1966, three men, including Aziz and Islam (then known as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson), were found guilty of murder. They got life in jail without parole.
One of the three men, Mujahid Abdul Halim (also known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan), acknowledged to killing Malcolm X but claimed that neither Aziz nor Islam were involved. Both gave alibi explanations, and there was no forensic evidence connecting them to the murder. The case relied heavily on witness evidence, however there were discrepancies.
Aziz and Islam’s lawyers claimed in complaints that their clients were both at home in the Bronx at the time that Malcolm X was murdered. The people who claimed this noted that Aziz spent 20 years in jail and more than 55 years living with the misery and indignity of being wrongly labeled as a convicted murderer of one of the most prominent civil rights leaders in history.
Although he was in jail for 22 years, Islam never gave up on his quest to cleanse his identity.